Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

The Big Read: Short stop returns to home base

Black Sox short stop Cole Evans impressed in a brief baseball stint. Photo / Dean Purcell
Black Sox short stop Cole Evans impressed in a brief baseball stint. Photo / Dean Purcell

Cole Evans is hot property in New Zealand softball, a prodigy who won a 2015 world championships silver medal as a 17-year-old schoolboy in the Black Sox. But the gun short stop almost became lost property, quitting softball for Canadian baseball with the youth-league North Delta Blue Jays last year.

He made a tremendous fist of the transition, finishing as his team's top batter and sixth overall in the league averages, and winning a glowing reference from his coach.

The 18-year-old has returned from Vancouver in time for national softball coach Mark Sorenson to include the apprentice electrician in his squad for this week's international TAB Challenge Cup in Albany.

Evans is part of an Auckland and Ramblers club dynasty which includes grandfather Stu Kinghorn - an iconic figure in the city's softball scene - and aunt Jan Kinghorn. Both played for New Zealand.

Evans chatted to the Herald as he prepared to line up in the tournament, which also includes Argentina, Japan, Australia, Czech Republic and Samoa.

Was reclaiming your New Zealand place ever a concern?
There is so much drama in New Zealand between softball and baseball. They are sports which could work together but there is definitely a bit of bad blood. But I left in a good place - Mark said if it doesn't work out, there's always a spot for you here.

Any professional baseball interest?
I talked to a couple of scouts from the Minnesota Twins and the Blue Jays and there were some offers to go to college but it is so expensive for international students, around US$10,000 a year (NZD $13917).

Were the adjustments difficult?
There are a lot more differences than people think. On the batting side, there are no rise balls in baseball ... the softball pitch is delivered around mid-thigh, whereas in baseball, the pitch comes from over the top.

The plane is completely different - in baseball, it is coming at you from a downward angle. I got a lot of help from the coaches, and they wanted me to lower my hands. In softball, you have a high back elbow and almost drive down on the ball.

[In fielding] my body clock was set to softball. At first, I was doing things too fast. I actually had more time than I thought - the field in baseball is so big.

Throwing in baseball is very technical, with a lot of importance on setting your feet.

Any other big differences?
They spend so much time warming up before games ... one-and-a-half to two hours. In softball, it might be half-an-hour. It makes for a long day. I don't know if many people back here could get into that.

You might be returning to Canada, for the world softball championships this year ...
Yes, in Whitehorse - I played the world juniors there. There's not much up there ... a couple of shops, a couple of gas stations, the softball park, the Yukon River, that's about it.

Have you always played at shortstop?
I started off as a catcher. I was about nine when a coach asked if anyone could catch. I thought he meant catch the ball.

Did you have a childhood hero?
Derek Jeter [legendary New York Yankees short stop]. He was all about playing the right way, hustling, leave the talking off the field and using your skills on it.

You were the bolter who played a major role in the 2015 world championships and played in the final against Canada ...
I didn't start the tournament but Tyson Byrne pulled a hamstring against Canada and Mark Sorenson said, "You're on, champ".

We were playing in front of a hostile Canadian crowd of 7000. They were yelling out all sorts of stuff: What are you doing here? What is that schoolboy doing out there?

They really gave it to me. The softball fans are so passionate in Canada.

Granddad Stu must have been particularly proud of your selection?
He was, although I can't remember what he said. But he had tears in his eyes.

Softball has struggled for exposure but this week's tournament is being covered by Sky ...
To have it on TV is awesome, and it will help push the game more. I think softball is actually in good health. We've got under-15 and 17 New Zealand teams, whereas it used to only be the under-19s. We've just got a big injection of money which I think is related to the Olympics.

Who will be the toughest team for the Black Sox this week?
Argentina, their pitchers throw so hard, especially Roman Godoy.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 29 Apr 2017 06:59:17 Processing Time: 348ms